In mid-February, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published his “Building Global Community” manifesto, in which he called for “supportive,” “safe,” “informed,” “civically engaged” and “inclusive” communities.
Which sounds lofty and benevolent, yet if you read between the lines, the message is: we want to own all the data of all the interpersonal/community interactions in the world and profit off of them through advertising and other as-yet-unveiled value-added propositions. (Facebook Bucks, anyone?)
Facebook launched a few years after I graduated from college, so I guess this makes me an old fuddy-duddy—an old fuddy-duddy who doesn’t want a corporation like Facebook owning my most sensitive personal info. Somehow, this sentiment not only puts me in the minority of the connected world, but also it increasingly marginalizes me in my everyday interactions.
I was OK with missing the occasional baby announcement. I was fine with missing the occasional warehouse party. But last month the Zuckerberg Mafia finally hit me where it hurts: I got kicked off of car sharing because I don’t have (and won’t have) a Facebook account.
If you haven’t and/or won’t join Facebok, you might end up left, like me, in a peculiar situation: the price of “sharing” a car equals money plus forking over a huge trove of personal data. Personal information is supplanting money as a form of currency.
One of the most glorious things about living in the Bay Area is that I don’t have to own a car. For nearly 10 years, I’ve been a member of City CarShare, a local nonprofit car-sharing service with vehicle stations all around the Bay Area. I built my life around the service. I love biking to a Prius parked in some random garage, tossing my bike into the hatch and launching off to my next adventure. I’m a believer in the vision of the Internet and smartphones helping us share stuff and get the most value out of our assets. City CarShare was an early real-world example of how technology might help facilitate/streamline people living together better and more efficiently.
However, City CarShare was recently bought by a corporation, Getaround. And Getaround built its platform on top of Facebook. So when I went to migrate my account over to them, I found that there’s literally no way to do it as a non-Facebook user. If I want to share cars with my fellow city dwellers, I’m compelled to strike a Faustian bargain.
To access the services of Getaround, one must authenticate their identity through Facebook.
For comparison: Airbnb allows multiple verification options — including, but not limited to, Facebook. If I’m going to share my car or house with someone, I sure as heck want to know if that person is who they say they are. But saying that Facebook is the sole conduit toward this goal is treading into scary, Black Mirror–esque territory.
I know that for you Facebook-having people, this is no big deal. You have resigned yourself to the idea of Facebook owning your data. But if you don’t, haven’t and/or won’t resign to this fate, you might end up left, like me, in a peculiar situation: the price of “sharing” a car equals money plus forking over a huge trove of personal data. Personal information is supplanting money as a form of currency.
I wrote to the nice folks at Getaround to let them know that I’ve been a loyal customer for over 10+ years and said I’d happily verify myself in any manner they see fit besides Facebook. But since the very architecture of their site is integrated unto Facebook, technically, they have no way to do this (short of redesigning the entire service). And there doesn’t seem to be any awareness of why this might even be an issue. It would take me just a minute to open an account, so why shouldn’t I do it?
A careful reading of Getaround’s privacy statement makes it clear that the data they are compiling will be shared with other companies. In the case of car sharing, that includes GPS tracking of where and when I’m driving (OMG, Facebook would love to get their tentacles on those juicy profile nodes).
Prior to writing this, I reached out to the well-meaning folks at Getaround. I’ve been engaged in a multiweek e-mail repartee with Graham, my “Happiness Supervisor,” who assured me that my information is private and that his corporate overlords aren’t sharing GPS data with anyone. However, when I sent him this sentence from his employer’s user agreement…
“We may permit third-party online advertising networks to collect information about your use of our Service over time, including location information, so that they may play or display ads that may be relevant to your interests on our Service as well as on other websites or services, or on other devices you may use.”
…Graham curtly curtailed our conversation:
“While this is surely not the answer you were hoping for, its [sic] the one I have available.”
And then came the end of our conversation:
“Your ticket #693796 has been solved.”
Still courtesy of Netflix (“Black Mirror,” “Nosedive”)
You have a credit score if you want to get a mortgage—soon you’ll have a social-credit score that people can check to see if you fit the bill for their service/community/etc.
We’re facing a world in which you’ll be a social outcast if you don’t regularly grant access to your Facebook profile. Facebook is becoming our de facto social-credit system.
Potential landlords, employers, car-share companies and dates will scan your social-credit score to see if you fit the bill. We’re facing a world in which you’ll be a social outcast if you don’t regularly grant access to your Facebook profile. Facebook is becoming our de facto social-credit system.
(Wondering how you’d fare under such a system? Here’s a fun app called Data Selfie that lets you self-analyze your Facebook data and see the sort of information-rich profile that is generated from your countless clicks and online interactions.)
At least in China, as with many civil-liberty issues, they are more explicit about the quashing of personal freedoms. Also to their credit, they are not OK with Facebook getting a monopoly on this biznatch. A couple of months ago, the PRC rolled out Honest Shanghai, an app that rewards citizens’ good behavior. This state-run social-credit system compiles all sorts of personal data (including facial recognition) and tabulates a score that designates whether you’re a social desirable or not. NPR.org noted the following about the app:
“The app was created by the Shanghai government as part of a broader ‘social credit system’ that will allow China’s government to use Big Data to grade the behavior of each of its citizens.”
Do we want a thing like this in America? Is Facebook becoming this thing? If we are forced to use it to verify our “social credit,” then don’t we effectively have it?
I’m assuming it sounds scarier when China does it — and explicitly calls it a “social credit system” — than when Facebook does it and calls it “global community.”
Still courtesy of Netflix (“Black Mirror,” “Nosedive”)
The TV show Black Mirror anticipated one version of this future dystopia, in which people rank each other on every interpersonal interaction on an app called “Nosedive.” When the main character’s ranking dips too low, she instantaneously gets shunned. Airlines won’t let her fly. She becomes a downgraded citizen.
This is kind of like what happened to me. My wings were clipped too. So, yeah, this is already real.
Where is all this headed?
If we give in to the sheer gigantic sweep of Facebook and the convenience it creates, and feed all our collective information into its ever-more-intelligent algorithms; if news is read and messages are sent primarily within the Facebook network so that each of these interactions sows new data points in our profiles; and if we build up thousands upon thousands of these innocuous-seeming interactions over years and years, and those interactions are overlaid with face-recognized images, marketing data from online purchases, browsing histories and, now, GPS-tracked driving data, is this total bartering of privacy worth the buy-in to Zuckerberg’s “supportive,” “safe,” “informed,” “civically engaged,” global community?